Football searching for conference title, national playoff spot in 88th Victory Bell Classic

Kiefer Askew


HANOVER, Ind. – The Hanover College football team will search for its first Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference championship since 2003 when they travel to face Franklin in the 88th annual Victory Bell Classic at 1:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 10.

CONFERENCE SCENARIO: The final week of the regular season has three teams with a chance of earning at least a share of the HCAC title. Franklin (8-1, 7-0 HCAC) can win the title outright with a victory over Hanover. A Panthers' (6-3, 6-1 HCAC) win would make it a three-way tie for first in the league standings with FC and Mount St. Joseph. Due to the fifth step in the conference tiebreaker rules, Hanover would earn the league's automatic qualification for the NCAA Division III Playoffs due to regional strength of schedule.

AQ ON THE LINE: With the above scenario laid out, it ultimately means Saturday's Victory Bell game is for the HCAC's automatic bid into the national playoffs. The last time this occurred during a Bell game was in 2012, which was also the last time both sides entered with a winning overall record (FC 7-2, HC 6-3). The Blue and Red's last appearance into the national playoffs was in 2003.

SERIES OF STREAKS: The Hanover-Franklin Victory Bell rivalry has been a series full of streaks. In fact, 10 times since the schools' first meeting in 1898 has one side posted a winning streak of at least three games. Hanover's longest streak, 14 games, came from 1942 to 1958. The Panthers also won 15 of 16 games during 1989 to 2004. Franklin is currently enjoying its longest stint with the Bell on its campus, winning each of the last 13 meetings.

Overall, the two sides are deadlocked at 42-42-3. The 2018 meeting will also mark the 31st consecutive season that the Panthers and Grizzlies have lined up across from each other. Hanover's last win in the series came in 2004, a 24-7 road triumph.

VICTORY BELL HISTORY: The Victory Bell has been awarded to the winner of the rivalry contest since 1938. The idea of a trophy for the winner of the annual game was presented by Hanover's "Bat Club," a non-athletic group of male students on campus, that wanted to improve school spirit. Last year the rivalry was exposed state-wide, as IndyStar sports writer Gregg Doyel did a feature on the game. Doyel is back again this year and is currently planning on releasing another story on the rivalry, this time with a focus on the Bell's origins.

SENIORS SHINE IN FINAL HOME GAME: The Panthers celebrated Senior Day last Saturday, as HC rallied to defeat Rose-Hulman 29-14. Senior Brody Dell (Tipton, Ind.) led a stout defensive effort with 13 tackles, two interceptions and one forced fumble, which led to him being named HCAC Defensive Player of the Week for the second time this fall.

Classmate Zach Dauer (Cincinnati, Ohio) added eight total tackles, including one for loss. On offense, senior lineman Kyle Conrad (Georgetown, Ind.) helped engineer 212 yards for HC on the ground.

DOMINATING DEFENSE: The title of the best defense in the conference belongs to the Blue and Red who are allowing just over 260 yards per game. Hanover's scoring defensive mark of 15.3 points per game is also tops in the HCAC. Both statistical marks are among the top 35 in Division III as well. Against Rose-Hulman, HC allowed 239 yards of offense, including 61 yards in the second half.

NO FLY ZONE: The core four defensive back group, Dell, freshman Kiefer Askew (Warner Robins, Ga.) and juniors Kaleb Grabert (Mount Vernon, Ind.) and Kornell Dash (Evansville, Ind.), have helped Hanover produced the league's top passing defense. The Panthers are allowing just 161.0 yards per game through the air, which ranks 29th in Division III. Dell is third on the team in tackles, 6.7 per game, while Askew leads the conference and is inside the top three nationally with 17 pass breakups. The quartet has combined for six interceptions and an additional 35 pass breakups this fall.

LINEBACKERS TOPS IN TACKLING: The linebacking tandem of sophomore Kyle Treber (Mishawaka, Ind.) and junior Dakota Manion (West Lafayette, Ind.) have been Hanover's leading tacklers all season long and both are coming off 12-stop performances against Rose-Hulman. Treber leads the team and is fifth in the HCAC with 9.1 tackles per game, while Manion's mark of 8.1 is also in the league's top 10. The duo has combined for three interceptions and seven breakups in pass coverage as well.

DEFENSIVE SPECIALTY STATS: To go along with Hanover's overall defensive numbers, the Panthers also lead the HCAC in sacks per game, 3.44, third down conversion percentage, 0.298, and red zone defense, 0.483. All three marks are also among the top 30 nationally. Leading pass rush has been Dauer, who has 6.5 sacks in eight games. The senior also has 9.5 tackles for loss.

THE 5-0-2 CONNECTION: A pair of Louisville, Ky. natives have produced a strong connection in the passing game, as sophomore Jared Frank has caught six of his team-leading nine touchdowns from junior AJ Breit. Frank was on the receiving end of all three Breit touchdown tosses last week, moving the sophomore into third in the league for season scores. Breit took over the quarterback role against Earlham and in six appearances has completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 1,042 yards and 15 touchdowns.

RB'S RUNNING WILD: The duo of junior Jake Namisnak (Indianapolis, Ind.) and sophomore Walt Ballinger (Beech Grove, Ind.) combined for 145 rushing yards in last week's win. Namisnak paced the attack with 20 carries for 85 yards and one touchdown. Ballinger added 21 rushes for 60 yards. Both running backs are averaging over four yards per carry this season, highlighted by Ballinger's 6.6 yards per attempt.

OBERHAUSEN AMONG LEAGUE'S TOP PUNTERS: Fresh off a busy week, freshman Brayden Oberhausen (Louisville, Ky.) sits in third in the HCAC for punting average, 36.9 yards. Oberhausen had nine punts last week for 328 yards, including a long of 50 yards and three tries placed inside the 20-yard line. For the season, 14 of the freshman's 42 punts have been dropped inside the 20, with only one try going into the end zone for a touchback.

SCOUTING THE GRIZZLIES: Franklin has already secured at least a share of its ninth HCAC championship and will be looking for its sixth unblemished conference record during the stretch this weekend. The Grizzlies are coming off their lowest offensive output of the season, but a late touchdown secured a 28-24 triumph over Bluffton.

Franklin's season has been highlighted by its play on offense, which is statistically the best in Division III. Hanover's stout defense will be up against the nation's top team in terms of yardage, 574.4 per game, and a top-five scoring unit, 46.1 points per game. Leading the way for the offense is Braden Smith, who has 3,042 passing yards and 28 touchdowns this season. Smith's marks are both inside the top 10 nationally.

On the receiving end is Brad Bonomini, who has the second most receiving yards in Division III, 1,147, as well as 11 touchdowns. The Grizzlies' conference-leading rushing attack is led by Jacob Earl, who is at 100.3 yards per game and 12 touchdowns.

Defensively, Austin Fleming paces the team at 7.4 tackles per game. Fleming also has two tackles for loss and one interception. Bryce Hale has 28 total tackles, six for loss, as well as two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Contact: Tyler Jester